Amazon deforestation hits record for first half of 2022

Deforestation in the Amazon hit a six-year high in the first half of 2022, Brazil’s space agency reported on Friday, deepening concerns that the vast rainforest’s crucial role in protecting the planet’s health is being irreparably damaged.

Satellite data showed that in the first six months of this year, more than 3,980 square kilometers were deforested, an area five times the size of New York City, with the highest number dating back to at least the 2016 month, the highest in June in 15 years , as farmers burned forest vegetation to clear land for crops and livestock.

The world’s largest rainforest is one of the planet’s most important “carbon sinks” and absorbs enormous amounts of CO2 carbon dioxide from the air and stores it in its vegetation. By removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the Amazon serves as a powerful counterbalance to all the released carbon and slows the pace of global warming.

The Amazon also plays a key role in regulating regional weather patterns. Its trees shed water through their stems, leaves, and flowers through a process called transpiration. The released water can form huge rivers in the sky and rain clouds that can affect precipitation locally and perhaps as far away as Mexico and the United States.

But the forest has come under threat in recent decades as land has been cleared and mostly converted to livestock and agriculture. In the last five decades, the Amazon has lost around 17 percent of its forest.

Some scientists say the Amazon could lose between 20 and 25 percent of its forest within a decade, which could irreversibly alter the ecosystem. The rainforest would be converted into a degraded open savanna, threatening biodiversity, shifting regional weather patterns and accelerating climate change.

“We are entering the tipping point area that scientists have been predicting,” said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the advocacy network Climate Observatory. “Now any further deforestation in the Amazon pushes us deeper into this irreversible scenario.”

Romulo Batista, a spokesman for Greenpeace Brazil, said the increase so far in 2022 is worrying as deforestation is encroaching from new areas. Deforestation has ramped up, clearing more than 1,230 square kilometers in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, a six-year high for the region. The states of Pará and Mato Grosso experienced 1,105 square kilometers and 845 square kilometers, respectively.

“Of particular concern is how the increase in deforestation is concentrating on a new front in the southern Amazon,” Batista said in a message Publication.

Deforestation rates have fluctuated over the past three decades, including at higher rates in the 1990s and early 2000s. In response from the Brazilians The government aggressively tried to protect the Amazon by strengthening environmental agencies and discouraging the export of goods illegally produced on deforested land. The efforts have paid off. From 2004 to 2012, the pace of deforestation plummeted by 80 percent.

But deforestation has been on an upward trend over the past three and a half years under the leadership of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has issued policies to support mining and ranching and unraveled environmental protections.

“Deforestation rates under Bolsonaro are double the average for the previous decade. That’s why they’re so alarming,” Astrini said. He said before Bolsonaro, deforestation increased by an average of 6,500 square kilometers per year from 2012 to 2018. After Bolsonaro took office, it was even 13,000 square kilometers per year.

“Tackling deforestation is clearly not a federal government priority,” said Ane Alencar, director of science at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute. “The priority seems to be the elections.”

In a statement, Brazil’s Environment Ministry defended its record, saying the “government has been extremely vigorous in fighting environmental crimes” in key regions of the country. It did not address the recent increase in deforestation.

Bolsonaro has also publicly contradicted deforestation figures in the past. “Information about this region goes outside of Brazil in a very distorted way,” he said during a visit to Hungary in February.

Voters in Brazil will meet in October to elect a new president and a national congress. Alencar said deforestation can be worse in election years because people are not as afraid of punishment. Candidates may be less inclined to impose fines and relax controls during the campaign.

The Amazon’s continued deforestation comes despite Bolsonaro’s pledge to end illegal deforestation by 2030 and make Brazil carbon neutral by 2050. Astrini said ending deforestation is feasible within the next decade. For example, agricultural productivity can be doubled on land that has already been cleared, and some research shows that many existing pastures graze more cattle than supported.

“We know where these areas are, what needs to be done, where the deforestation is happening and how we can implement the policies to avoid deforestation,” Astrini said. But he, Alencar and many others are skeptical that such an action would take place under the current leadership.

“If we have four more years of the Bolsonaro administration, it will be a government that leads us to the collapse of the forest,” Astrini said. “I’ll say it frankly, in the October elections, the Brazilians have to make a choice, either Bolsonaro or the forest. Neither will exist in the next four years. Only one will survive.”

Leading up to the election, however, Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies said deforestation rates could continue to rise depending on how the election might turn out.

If they think Bolsonaro “won’t be re-elected, they could really try maximum land grabs and just assume that the next president” will be “very tough on law enforcement starting January,” Nobre said.

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Sá Pessoa reported from São Paulo. Patel reported from Washington. Chris Mooney in Washington contributed to this report. Amazon deforestation hits record for first half of 2022

Dustin Huang

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